Guest post by Mohamad Elmasry
Last Monday’s mass death sentences against 529 Egyptian civilians accused of killing a single police officer last summer should not come as a surprise. A sham trial – which lasted just two days and didn’t bother to hear the defense’s arguments – is consistent with the pattern of tyranny that characterizes Egypt’s post-July 3, 2013 policy, and is to be expected from a regime pursuing a campaign to annihilate Egypt’s most popular social movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last July, the Egyptian state did not simply carry out a military coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamad Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood. Importantly, the regime also proclaimed its intention of annihilating the Brotherhood, a group that had won five consecutive elections and which commands a great deal of popular support. On July 3, Egypt’s military-backed government detained Morsi and his presidential team, prepared hundreds of arrest warrants for Brotherhood members, shut down all Islamist television networks, and began describing the Brotherhood as disloyal to the state.
So, in spite of the fact that military leader Abdelfattah Al-Sisi’s July 3 speech stopped short of outlining a plan to eliminate the Brotherhood from social and political life, the military’s actions made their intentions clear. Since July 3, more than one thousand protesters have been killed by security forces, the Brotherhood has been labeled a terrorist organization, Islamist political parties have been banned, thousands of people have been arrested, Islamist charities have been shut down, and dissent has been stifled.
What was clear to political scientists on July 3 should now be clear to everyone: Morsi’s ouster was not a revolutionary or democratic moment, but, rather, the beginning of a counter-revolution meant to reverse the democratic gains Egypt had made since the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. In recent months, Egypt’s security forces and judiciary – two key members of Egypt’s ‘deep state’ – have been emboldened. In a speech delivered immediately after the coup, a leader of Egypt’s security forces told a group of attentive policemen that the days of a weak and humiliated police force were over, and urged them to aim “directly at the heart” of criminals who “come near.” Also, repressive police units, disbanded after the January 2011 uprising, were reinstated shortly after the July 3 coup. Egypt’s judiciary, meanwhile, has obediently served the military, ruling swiftly and repeatedly against both liberal and Islamist activists.
All of this should make it abundantly clear that Egypt has – in spite of Morsi’s failings – taken a turn for the worse since the elected president was ousted. Under an elected government there was, at least, a culture of partial accountability for police, Morsi’s failure to implement comprehensive security reforms notwithstanding. Morsi had, for instance, organized a fact-finding committee to find out who killed protesters from 2011 to 2012. During one incident of police brutality committed during Morsi’s tenure, both Morsi and the Minister of Interior issued apologies. On another occasion, Morsi called for an investigation into the murder of a prisoner.
Unfortunately for Egypt and the region, Egypt’s military regime is at a point of no return. They cannot step back from their repressive path, or move meaningfully toward democratization. If they did either, they would open themselves up to the possibility of being tried for some of the numerous crimes committed since July 3, 2013. Thus, sadly, more mass arrests, mass death sentences, and mass murder remain distinct possibilities as the regime continues its march towards fascism.
Mohamad Elmasry is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and is former Assistant Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo (AUC).